Tomasz Kuszczak, Cristiano Ronaldo
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Tomasz Kuszczak: Man United can still win Premier League

| 23.10.2021

Tomasz Kuszczak on all things United

Manchester United take on arch rivals Liverpool this weekend and ahead of the big game we got the lowdown from former Red Devils goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak who spent six years at Old Trafford as back-up to Edwin van der Sar.

Speaking exclusively to Ladbrokes for its 5-a-side bet on Sunday’s game, the Pole talked about under-pressure manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Bruno Fernandes, his memories of Cristiano Ronaldo and fall-out with Fergie.

However, Kuszczak kicked off the interview by looking at United’s Premier League and Champions League prospects…

Man United can still win the Premier League and reach Champions League final

Winning the Premier League – as difficult as it may be – is still achievable for Manchester United this season. People might be questioning that based on the team’s current form, but it’s still so early in the season, maybe in three months from now we are looking at a completely different table.

Five points is the difference between Man United and top of the league at the moment – I think they can easily kick on and close that gap in the next few months. Their squad is fantastic, and while they’ve had a bit of a bad spell recently, we must remember we’re talking about a team with Cristiano Ronaldo. They’ve got some top, top players, and their fortunes have to turn around at some point.

I still think they’ve got a chance of winning the league simply because we’re only eight games into the season. If they were in this kind of form in, say, February, then obviously my response would be different, but there’s still such a long way to go.

I think we’re also at a point now where realistically Manchester United could reach the Champions League final. They managed to reach the Europa League final last season, so it would be nice to see them replicate that on an even bigger stage.

Ole deserves Fergie time; Carragher only calling him out ahead of game at weekend

I played with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for a season at Manchester United, and played under him when he was managing the reserve team. He was always the same; very calm, he’d tell you what he thought, he was to the point and the players liked him. It’s the same today. The players enjoy working with him, he’s got a lot of respect around the place. He deserves a little bit more time in charge of the club. I know people will argue and say he’s had enough time and the club haven’t won anything in two years. But he’s done so much more for the team than we see on the pitch.

I’m an ex-player from the club, I’m a big fan of the club and I’m a big fan of Ole – as well as his staff. I know them all so well. Ole has so much still to do with this team, and I believe he can do it.

Of course, you’re always going to hear different opinions from different people. Jamie Carragher can come out and say ‘oh yeah, it’s not good enough, they need to change things’ and all of this. Obviously it’s no coincidence he’s said this before United face Liverpool this weekend; it’s nice for him to maybe say something negative about United before that game. He’s not playing the game anymore so he feels like he can say whatever he wants, but my opinion is that Ole has certainly got the ability and deserves the chance to take United back to their best.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Man Utd v Leeds betting tips

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t know about. To build something within a football team which can be sustained over a long period of time, you need to be given time. After Sir Alex Ferguson left, you saw a number of managers come in and change things around tactically, and Manchester United almost lost its identity.

Ole has definitely brought that back in how the team plays football, and he’s clearly trusted and liked by a lot of people at the club. I can never understand why people are so quick to attack managers after a few bad results. Sir Alex achieved so many great things at this football club, but he only did so because he was given the time. There were some bad years, and then there were some fantastic years. I hope Ole gets the same chance; at the moment, for me, he’s doing well.

When you look at Manchester United so far this season, they haven’t been bad – if anything they’ve been a little unlucky in the last few games. One point from nine games is not good enough, but the performances are almost there; it’s just come down to individual errors on a couple of occasions which have cost the team – but it’s hard to blame Ole for those mistakes.

I want to see more from Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was fantastic last season. He was a leader, he scored the most goals and he created so many opportunities for his team-mates. He was the main man last season for Manchester United, but this year it’s not been as bright for him. I want to see more from him. To have Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood to name just a few, to have all of those players at the top of their game gives United a massive chance to win something big.

Man United aren’t matching Ronaldo’s standard at the moment…that has to change

Training with Cristiano Ronaldo was great for me. I spent four years with him, seeing him every day, staying after training with him, playing games with him. For me, he always was a great guy, hard working, always smiling, always positive.

Many players think he’s an arrogant guy, but he wasn’t. He was loud, always happy, he loved football. He’s a guy who was just fantastic to be around. He was never sad, he was so positive. We’d lose a game and he’d be one of the first in the dressing room to lift our heads up and tell us to focus on the next game. This was at a fairly young age as well, so he’s always had those leadership qualities, and I imagine he’s the one the current youngsters look up to in the dressing room now. You could feel that he believed in himself so much, as well as the rest of his team.

I knew Ronaldo was never going to go to Manchester City – he’s always been a Red. I think that he built his confidence and his reputation so quickly, and the supporters and Sir Alex Ferguson built him up so much, you just always had the feeling he’d come back at some point. I hope he plays for another 10 years, to be totally honest with you. I’m so pleased to see him back at the club because I’ve no doubt the team will benefit hugely from having him around.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Man Utd v Atalanta betting tips

At the moment, though, when I see Manchester United play, I see Cristiano always putting himself in positions to score goals, but I don’t see the rest of the players going to the top of their ability.

Cristiano Ronaldo is always going to be the leader, he’s the best player in world football with Lionel Messi just on the side. Ronaldo has done it in every top league in the world, he’s done it at an international level. But now I think Man United need to find a balance where the rest of the players start to catch up with him and his levels, because at the moment they’re not doing that, and it’s no good having Cristiano Ronaldo performing at that level and always finding goalscoring positions when the rest of the team are some way off him.

Ole just needs just needs to find a way of getting the best out of such a big name in Ronaldo, as well as the youngsters and the other huge talents in the team, because it’s such a strong group of players. With Cristiano up front, you’re always going to score goals so the next job is to get the rest of the squad somewhere closer to his level.

Fergie said he saw more of me than his wife…I was always knocking on his door!

The job of a reserve goalkeeper is always tough at a club the size of Manchester United, but it worked well for me because of my relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson; if it wouldn’t have worked well, then I wouldn’t have spent six years of my career with the club.

Being second keeper is a very difficult position to be in – you need to be patient and keep your mind in the right direction. Obviously you want to play and if you’re not playing, you’re getting frustrated. You need to train even harder and take every chance you get.

You need patience, but at the same time I always wanted to make sure Sir Alex knew how I was feeling. I was always the one who knocked on his door to ask him about game time. He once told me he sees me more than his own wife, because I was going to his office every three days.

Alex Ferguson, David de Gea

I hope he liked me; I think he did. He kept me in and around the team for years and gave me two long-term contracts. Whenever I asked him anything to do with football, he always helped me out. I’d ask him for more game-time and he’d give me plenty of opportunities in cup competitions. He trusted me.

I had the impression at the time that Sir Alex liked me, because if he didn’t, I’d have been out of the door – make no mistake about that. To keep him happy at all times, I knew I had to be at the top of my game. To be fair to myself, I was always working hard behind the scenes – there are things that fans don’t see. I was really digging hard to establish myself in that team.

My Fergie hairdryer treatment – I had tears in my eyes

There are always different stories coming out from ex-players about Sir Alex Ferguson going mad in the dressing room – and of course I’ve seen it myself on many occasions. Those dressing rooms are full of adrenaline at the end of games, and obviously there’s a lot of negative energy after games where the result doesn’t go your way. Whenever that happened, we as players would often say things or do things which, in hindsight, may have cost us our place in the team, or even our contracts.

I’ve seen many different actions from Sir Alex in the dressing room after games. At times he’d be really mad, shouting and swearing at players, kicking things around, and the players respond to it – because we’re human beings. It doesn’t matter how old you are, and with that adrenaline and negative energy sometimes we’d respond and lose or tempers.

My first real incident with him came after a League Cup game against West Ham. We lost the game 4-0, and after the game, he walked into the dressing room and just started shouting at me. Every swear word you could think of, he was throwing at me. I was sitting there, calmly, thinking ‘I did nothing wrong in this game’. There weren’t any goals I was particularly at fault for, so I couldn’t blame myself. If I made a mistake I’d always hold my hands up, so on this occasion I couldn’t understand why he was going for me.

He kept shouting at me and I started to get angry, so I decided to respond. I thought I’d give it back to him the same way he gave it to me. I stood up and started to shout at him, and then I see Ryan Giggs standing right behind the boss, and I look into his eyes, he’s shaking his head at me. I could see he was thinking ‘don’t do it – sit down!’. All of a sudden I sat down, everyone in the dressing room was nervous, I was nervous, there were tears in my eyes.

The next day I made sure I was in training before everyone else. That was easy because I didn’t sleep at all. I waited for Fergie to get to the training ground and I apologised to him for my behaviour. He put a hand on my shoulder and said “no problem”. He admitted he went over the line as well, and told me he’d watched the game afterwards and realised he shouldn’t have gone for me like he did. He said “are we still friends?” I said “of course we are, boss.”

Ravel Morrison lost what could have been a fantastic career; we all thought he’d go to the top

Ravel Morrison is the name for me who stands out as someone who should have gone on to do much better things in the game. We both spent time together at Manchester United, of course, and then our paths crossed again at Birmingham City.

He did so well at United when he was young. He was the one player we all looked at and thought ‘he’s going to go straight to the top’. Then something happened with him, and I don’t really want to go into detail, but you could say he wasted his career, because the ability he had was the highest you could get.

But this is football and Cristiano Ronaldo is a great example of this; ability is one thing, but hard work is another. Morrison, at the time, was missing sessions, he was disappearing for weeks. I think his private life was a bit of a problem – and that’s something the fans knew about. Nobody could help him and he lost what could have been a fantastic career. He’s done okay, but he could have done so much better, in my opinion.

Ravel Morrison, Manchester United

Ravel was a really brave young man when he first joined up with the senior squad – let’s put it like that. Obviously if you come into the first team dressing room with the likes of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, all of these top, top level players with so much experience and so many trophies to their names, and you come in feeling like this is your place, you’re going to hit a wall. It was a little bit like that with Ravel. To his credit, though, he understood very quickly that he needed to work very hard to really fit in with the first team.

I don’t know exactly what happened with him in his private life, I think he had some problems. It’s so important in football to choose wisely the people you spend time with outside of the game, and it was hard for him because he couldn’t concentrate on his football. I know that the club tried very hard to help him grow, and you’ll always get a certain level of care and support, but after a certain point it’s down to yourself and I think that’s where Ravel ultimately suffered.

We had a lot of players over the years who couldn’t really get their careers going at Manchester United because the first-team was so strong and the competition for places was so tough. I think of the likes of Paul Pogba; he needed to leave the club at a young age, and I think it was a good thing for him, because if he’d have stayed longer, he possibly wouldn’t have made it. That move to Juventus really helped him. Gerard Pique is another one who had to move on. People might think the club maybe missed a trick by not keeping him, but at the time we had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic who were always going to start. Pique was a good player, and that was clear for all of us to see, but sometimes this is how football is; if you don’t move on at the right moment, you might find yourself missing the chance to succeed at the very top of the game.

There were a lot of young players coming through while I was at United who I’m really proud of today. I can remember a young Jesse Lingard – he was always this small kid, and believe it or not, I can remember him. It makes me feel old, but I can remember him well as a 12/13 year old. The staff behind the scenes at United deserve so much credit for some of the talent they have brought through over the years.

Where can Man United strengthen

It’s difficult to say exactly where Manchester United can strengthen after the transfer window they’ve just had. My impression is that each and every player in that team can still improve – but ultimately how can you strengthen further when you’ve just signed Cristiano Ronaldo?! We can talk about this or that and bring up possible individuals, but I think you can only really add more competition to the starting line-up – I’m not sure how else the team can be strengthened other than in depth.

Man United v Liverpool prediction

This game is the equivalent to the Champions League final for both teams; the rivalry is so strong. It doesn’t matter what’s happened up to this point in the season; everything goes out of the window.

It’ll be a very difficult game for United after this bad spell, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to prove they can still compete with the top teams in the division. I believe they can go and win the game. Why can’t they? Yes, Liverpool are a great team, and there are some incredible players in there with plenty of power and ability, but I believe United can do it. The atmosphere will be electric, and as a Manchester United fan and an ex-player, I truly believe they can win the game.

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Warren Barner